On Traveling Alone (And Happening to be a Woman)

As I type this, I am alone in my quaint little hotel room in Hotel Le Regent in Paris, hearing my own typing in the keyboard, my own asthmatic breath, and absolutely nothing else. I bask in my solitude, appreciating the silence that accompanies it. I could blast on my iTunes or Spotify playlist, turn on the TV and watch French news, or open the window to eavesdrop on my Parisian neighbors and hear how they argue, but I choose not to. Sometimes all you need is a little peace and quiet. The sunlight peeking in through the curtain is tempting me to go outdoors, but my feet are tired from all the walking, and my stomach is punishing me for all the crêpes, duck fat and exotic sea snails I’ve been stuffing it with the past few days. So I will sit here instead and write.

 

Hotel Le Regent along Rue Dauphine, a highly recommended hotel for solo female travelers :)

Hotel Le Regent along the peaceful street of Rue Dauphine, a highly recommended hotel for solo female travelers 🙂

 

It’s been six weeks since I packed my suitcase and left for Europe. Alone. There is something about being a young twenty-something woman with wanderlust that evokes raised eyebrows and condescending comments, especially when people find out that the said woman is traveling on her own. There are many reasons of course, but most of them expressing concern. From the viewpoint of the Schengen Visa officer, she made it a point to say out loud that ooh la la, I was single (translation: was I going to snag a French husband and stay in Paris forever?). From my acquaintances, they ask what would become of my very fresh romantic relationship (translation: can I resist the temptation of a wooing European man with an accent?). My family and close friends know better, thank goodness, but still they couldn’t help but mention anecdotes of pickpockets and coquettish men and other travel horror stories inspired by the movie Taken.

 

One of my many selfies. This one is taken inside the pyramid of The Louvre.

One of my many selfies. This one is taken inside the pyramid of The Louvre.

 

And yet there are those who express admiration for my courage, especially strangers who would kindly take my photo when they see me struggling to take a selfie with my trusty digital camera (unfortunately, my monopod broke just when I got to Paris, the part of my trip where I am completely and utterly alone). This surge of bravery, I must admit, was the underlying force that brought me where I am today, in this comfortable hotel room and not in a Philippine embassy in a foreign country somewhere, or worse, behind bars ala Bridget Jones. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and I’m horrible at counting coins; and yet it was my intuition and guts that helped me survive a series of day-to-day challenges.

 

However, I do get scared a lot of times, especially when I only have a few minutes to run from one terminal to another on a connecting flight, or while staying in a crowded train. Yesterday afternoon, my fight-or-flight response was really put to test. I was on my way to Sacré-Cœur basilica, and while I did see in my research that there are many con artists and scammers in the Montmarte area, I did not expect a whole mob of perverts who verbally harassed me upon arriving the Château Rouge station. When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a man “bumped” into me from behind just when the pedestrian stoplight turned green and he ran away, laughing at his pathetic little conquest. I dashed to the nearest store, heart thumping and resisting the urge to vomit or cry. Apparently, doing a lot of yoga and writing for two weeks prior to my six days in Paris gave me an inner strength I didn’t know I possessed. After a few deep breaths, similar to how we do it in meditation, I managed to pull myself together and look at my Ulmon Paris app to look for an alternate route. I decided to ignore the advice I got from the Metro Information guy who told me I had to get off at another station to get to Sacré-Cœur. No way was I going to go back to that mob again!

 

While walking, still feeling faint and shaky, I comforted myself with thoughts of going home to my family and my boyfriend in two days. And like an answered prayer, my misfortune turned into a blessing – the neighborhood route I took was apparently a shortcut to the peaceful “backyard” of the basilica, totally avoiding the tourist areas! It was still quite a hike, but not the kind where you would have to take a funicular. So not only did I get to save a Metro t+ ticket, I was able to have an unperturbed journey towards the church.

 

While walking further uphill I heard a woman with a lovely singing voice, and for a moment my heart jumped at the thought that Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine might be there, but alas, it was just one of those super talented buskers who grace the streets of Paris. I enjoyed the music nonetheless, and I thought it was a great coincidence that a festival was going on, making the place seem more vibrant. It wasn’t such an unlucky day after all.

DSCN0015

This lovely chanteuse is a definite fancy delight with the flowers on her hair!

 

The view, of course, made all the trouble worth it. Let the pictures speak for themselves:

 

The back part of the church, which I accidentally discovered from my detour :)

The back part of the church, which I accidentally discovered from my detour 🙂

10552660_10202515330266775_3391690421752040229_n

The view from Sacre Coeur in Montmatre

10606209_10202515331866815_8572578379329792278_n

There was an ongoing festival in the Church grounds 🙂

 

The breathtaking Sacre Coeur Basilica.

The breathtaking Sacre Coeur Basilica.

10527442_10202515337426954_4029864430200744133_n

…And a mandatory selfie with it!

Later on in the evening, I saw on my Facebook newsfeed that one of our instructors from the Cambridge Writers Workshop, Jessica Reidy, experienced a similar incident in Montmartre. Apparently we were there at about the same time, we just didn’t see each other. This is how she spoke of her experience:

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 12.35.05 PM

Screenshot of the Facebook post of writer Jessica Reidy.

 

This gives the “fight” version of my “flight” response, and I can only hope I had the same physical prowess as she has, given that I wasn’t equipped with skull-crushing skills and army boots. I love how Jessica gave that bastard what he deserved.

Traveling alone as a woman is definitely not an easy feat, but the challenges shouldn’t stop you from the dream trip that you deserve. While it is inevitable to face misfortune from time to time, what really matters is how you handle the situation. The trick is in learning how to calm down and think with a clear mind. We may also take our instincts and gut feel for granted, but it’s exactly what will help us make good decisions. Put your “woman’s intuition” to good use, as it’s a rare gift to human beings with an xx chromosome.

And besides, traveling alone has its rewards. Despite the lonely nights, you get to do anything you want, when and how you want it. For instance, the itinerary I made for myself said that I should have been out three hours ago looking at impressionist paintings at Musée d’Orsay. But I fancied a little blogging session, and maybe a little snack consisting of Kinder Bueno Schoko-Bons and a pack of Lay’s once I’ve posted this – just because I can. 

So to my dear Fancy Delight readers, go ahead and plan that dream trip, whether it be with family, friends, a significant other, or simply yourself — the world is calling out to you 😉

Denmark, You Have My Heart

After four grueling plane rides, from Manila to Singapore, to Paris, to Copenhagen and finally to Billund, I found myself nibbling on some mushroom and blue cheese pizza in the garden of my dear Auntie Linda’s home in Kolding, Denmark, chatting with my family and playing with their dainty English Spaniel Bella, as if seven years didn’t pass since I last went here. It felt like walking – no, gliding – through a good dream. The backyard overlooking a serene lake where sailboats glide gracefully was just as lovely as ever, exactly as how I remember it when I spent my summer there in 2007.

photo copy 6

Denmark feels like a novel I read in childhood, where now I am seeing it with fresh eyes and I can understand it better. Do you sometimes feel that way about the books you read, over and over again? The pages may be wrinkled yet the words remain the same – why is it then so different from when you read it before? It seems that the beauty of life is found in our inevitable transformation. It is us who change through the years, who learn more words and relate to more experiences, of horrible chapters and happy endings.

But of course, life takes its course and even the seasons change, and more so our loved ones. Bella is now about 70 years old in human years, and must be more careful when playing, lest she collapses again from over fatigue. My dear Auntie Linda has a crown of white hair, which suits her perfectly. She is still as sweet and hospitable as ever, letting me stay in her pretty summerhouse during my visit.

Sweet Bella

Sweet Bella

Auntie Linda and my cousin Natacha

Auntie Linda and my cousin Natacha

As for Uncle Thomas, I doubt he could still carry me in jest as he did when I was 15, now that he is battling the severe effects of his Parkinson’s disease. It didn’t stop him though from mumbling in Danish that I looked exactly like my Auntie Linda when he first met her. Their first meeting seemed to come out straight from a movie: he saw her in the airport on a visit to the Philippines and, enchanted by her beauty, asked if he could take her photograph.

photo copy 8

My beautiful Tita Melissa, Auntie Linda’s daughter, is now a published author and illustrator of a charming children’s book, written in Danish, “My Mom, the Snake and Me”, for kids who have parents who are battling depression. I look forward to reading a translated version in English. I am also happy to see Uncle Søren again, as well as and to have finally met little Augusta, with her curly hair and golden glow. She is such a sweet doll. I have yet to meet her sister Isabela, who was still so small on my last visit.

photo copy 4

Uncle Jens is just as hilarious as ever, while Tita Melanie, the eldest daughter of Auntie Linda, welcomed me to her home and showed me the newest addition to her backyard – a quaint and quirky garden house built by none other than Uncle Jens himself. The garden is still a work in progress with many more projects to come. And of course, it was so nice to see their son Alexander, who has grown up to be such a fine young man. He has just graduated and will be entering university soon to take up medicine. Meanwhile, his sister Natacha now has her own place in Odense where she pursues a degree in history.

photo copy 5

While waiting for our Italian brunch to be served in Aarhus

And lastly, there’s Tito Michael with his swanky flat in the vibrant neighborhood of Arhus. After a recent visit to the Philippines, where we loaded him with so much sugar, a distinct characteristic of Filipino cuisine, he has now taken fitness to the next level and has a strict workout regimen and a very balanced diet. I now officially consider him my health guru.

It’s good to be back.

***

I can’t help but feel like I ran away from the wrath of typhoon Glenda in the Philippines and chased the sun here in Europe. The weather is just divine. I could actually frolic about in my summer dresses and stay under the sun for hours while enjoying the soft breeze. The sun sets around 10pm here, and the nights are rather short. On my first day, I drove Uncle Thomas’ huge Toyota Verso to the summerhouse with my cousin Natacha, who has recently been on a visit to the Philippines. We now have reversed roles, where she is the one handling our itinerary, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Auntie Linda’s summerhouse will be our home in Denmark in the coming days before we embark on an adventure to Berlin and Prague.

photo copy 2

I blushed when I saw this.

My first few days in Denmark has been nothing short of captivating: from exploring Djurs, Scandinavia’s biggest summerland, home to the most extreme rides including The Pirate, the fifth best roller coaster in the world, to walking around the artsy streets of Aarhus and enjoying the jazz festival, every second has been filled with new wonders and fancy delights. Stay tuned for more in-depth blog entries about Djurs Sommerland and the Latin Quarter of Arhus (plus, a lovely seafood restaurant and the best pubs around). Till next time!

photo copy 7

The Pirate — the fastest and highest roller coaster in Denmark

 

Remembering Papa

It is around 9pm, way past my little girl bedtime on a summer day. I would jump around excitedly in bed, waiting for the three honks that could only mean one thing: that my parents are finally home from work. As they park their car in the garage, I try to make myself useful in their bedroom. I would smooth out the creases of the bed covers from all my jumping, and add that extra fluff to their pillow for a good night’s sleep. At long last, the wait is over!

That pretty much summarizes my childhood.

I did have my special moments with Mama in the morning before she leaves for work. Unlike her mom, my grandmother, who takes forever to get ready due to her meticulous fashion and beauty rituals — a trait I inherited from her — my mom manages to whip up her look for the day in a snap: a glide of lipstick and a nice dark shade of eyeshadow while she says out loud a series of last minute reminders to our helper. She then dons a smart blazer to seal the deal and she’s out and about, heels clicking and car keys jingling away — but not before she gives me a peck and a hug, plus an encouraging pat to continue with whatever piece of writing or art that I was working on. Mama fuels my day.

It is a completely different story at night. My father, a respected geologist in his field, was a constant globetrotter. More than the goodbyes before he leaves, I remember more the hellos when he gets back after days or weeks or months of waiting to see each other again. I always anticipate the glorious moment when he’d finally step into the room, and I’d get in the way between him and Mama (who I’m sure missed him just as much — or perhaps even more than I did). I even recall staying up till past midnight waiting for him to return from a red-eye flight from Malaysia.

We’ve always had an interesting form of bonding the moment he plops in bed. With my little hands, I would pull off his pair of socks from his size 10 feet with all my might, and throw it in the silliest way and in the most random part of the room — near the TV, the book shelf, or if I make a good aim, the doorknob to the washroom. He would then carry me and lift me up with his legs, my arms spread out wide as if I were flying among the clouds. We called the game “Airplane”. And if that wasn’t enough, he would jokingly tell me that he would eat me (“yu-yum-yum-in kitaaa”), his  stubble grazing and tickling my cheeks until my fit of giggles would exhaust me into slumber. “Good night, my angel Nan”, he would whisper in my ear. The next thing I know, it is morning again, and I am in my bed. He probably carried me back to my room when I was soundly dreaming away.

 

Playtime with Papa.

Playtime with Papa.

Earlier this afternoon, when we went to my dad’s brother Tito Mar to celebrate Father’s Day and the recent blessing of their new home, it was impossible not to include anecdotes about Papa in our conversation.

“Kuya Ray had a soft heart”, Tito Mar said, to which his youngest brother Tito Vic agreed. With Papa’s usual uptight demeanor, this soft heart that they speak of was usually reserved for those dearest to him — and in some cases, even to those who didn’t necessarily deserve his goodwill. He was a good man, guided by his principles, which included fairness and his unwavering integrity.

Papa (second from left) with his brothers Tito Mar and Tito Vic with Lolo Tony

Papa (second from top left) looking vibrant with his brothers Tito Mar and Tito Vic with their father, the late Lolo Tony

Always the disciplinarian, Papa had such a high standard of living. He was strict and hard to please, and had a short temper. He was a skeptic, a critic of society, and a scrupulous educator. My sister and I would help him in checking the test papers of the students he taught at various universities, and when we come across a particularly bad student who couldn’t tell how many sides there were in a cube, he would give us a lecture about pupils who waste away the hard-earned money of their parents by not taking their studies seriously. It may sound silly, but this always made me conscious when answering test papers in my college years — I didn’t want to be used as a bad example to the children of my professors.

There was a time when Mama worked in the US, and Papa would force me and my sister to eat vegetables for dinner with not even the slightest bit of chocolate for a taste of salvation. One time when we couldn’t take eating greens anymore, we secretly threw it away, and when he discovered the morsels of food in the trash, my sister and I trembled in fear. The rest of the night was history. When I got too big to be carried for our game of “Airplane”, and when the idea of me having a boyfriend at such a young age came into the picture, I was almost always walking on eggshells with him.

It wasn’t so easy being with Papa.

However, beneath his stern façade was a beating heart, always ready to help those in need without asking much in return. He never made a huge show from his discreet acts of charity to his family and peers. He was non-judgemental — his default disposition was to have an open mind. He was always set on doing the right thing, even if it entails compromises. He respected people from all walks of life, from the humble assistants who help him and his fellow geologists in their perilous explorations, to the blind man slowly crossing the street and causing traffic. He was kind.

Which leads me to the conclusion that this is how I want to remember Papa: as the strong man with a soft heart — the man who was the wind beneath my wings as we both shout “airplane!” amid a roar of laughter. The long years may have deepened the crease between his brows, but in his last few months with us, he would always remind me how much he loved me, and that I will always be his “angel Nan”.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa. I miss you terribly.

Flowers for my first love.

Flowers for my first love.